Federal Judge Rules In Favor Of Atheists Against A County’s Religious Flag, Now The County Is Fighting Back
A Pennsylvania county voted Wednesday to appeal a court ruling against the display of the Christian cross on the county’s flag and seal as unconstitutional.
Lehigh County commissioners voted to appeal the ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling initially concluded a lawsuit that four local members and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist organization, brought against the county in order to remove the cross from the flag and seal, according to the Associated Press Thursday.
Federal Judge Edward Smith ruled in favor of the complainants, saying that while he did not personally believe the cross breached the First Amendment’s establishment clause, his hands were tied by a 1971 Supreme Court Decision that states “the government action is unconstitutional if it lacks a secular purpose, its primary effect either advances or inhibits religion or it fosters an excessive entanglement of government with religion,” according to Lehigh Valley Live.
Smith also cited the county’s stated purpose for the cross, written in 1944, to signify “God-fearing people” and “Christianity” are the county’s “foundation and backbone,” as further impetus for his decision that the symbol does not pass the test as laid down in the 1971 SCOTUS decision.
“While the court may not fully agree with the test provided, the court must apply that test,” Smith said according to Lehigh Valley Live. “Thus, the court must grant the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment, and deny the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.”
County Commissioners previously refused to remove the cross from the flag and seal, saying that in modern context the symbol of the cross “has the secular purpose of recognizing the history of the county. As such, it does not violate the Establishment Clause.”
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